Roads crumble, legislators fiddle

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Turn either way off Route 4 onto Route 117 in Turner, and you’ll find the same thing: rutted, crumbling, cracked roadway.

In some places, the state-maintained road – we use the term loosely – is astonishingly bad. If you laid a straight edge from the berm to the crown in some places, you’d see four inches of air where the tires travel.

But, soon, the western side of that 117 divide will be on its way to improvement, while the eastern side will likely continue, at least for another year, to deteriorate. Both sides of 117 were scheduled for work this year, but the eastern half work will be canceled if the Legislature fails to improve a road bond package.

The bond bill was on life support as of Friday night, the likely victim of a cockeyed sense of fiscal restraint. You could blame Republicans for the stalemate. It was, after all, the GOP that forced the issue, claiming the state has too much bonded indebtedness.

That, however, isn’t so clear in this case. The debt for the Maine Department of Transportation has shrunk from more than 14 percent of the budget to less then 5 percent.

Yet, State House Republicans demanded death to the road bond before they would agree to help Democrats pass a state budget.

So, you could just as easily blame the Democrat leadership for agreeing to the short-sighted compromise in the first place.

Wednesday, House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, was trying to have it both ways: “As an individual, I felt like I had to keep my promise to Republicans,” he said after voting against the bond package. “As a spokesman for the (Democrats), however, this vote does not reflect well on the other party with the amount of needs that are out there.

As John Kerry would say, “I voted for it before I voted against it.”

That explanation, of course, is of little consolation to weary Maine drivers. Road bonds nearly always pass, reflecting the priority voters place on fixing potholes. We have little doubt that this one, if allowed to come to the ballot, will pass as well.

If the road bond fails, Mainers traveling State Route 117 – and hundreds of miles of other crumbling roads and bridges in Maine – can take comfort knowing that the budget deal went smoothly, even though their ride home from work will not.

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